Aisle of the Damned: 11/21/16- Strange(r) Things

Don't talk to strangers

Sorry for the lateness. You know how it is when turkey is involved. But here’s one Thanksgiving leftover you won’t want to leave in the fridge.

Kent and Bryan discuss the films Arrival and Doctor Strange, two pieces of pulp that seem to be trying harder than usual to engage your brain. We also say goodbye to Robert Vaughn and discuss our DC-flavored recommendations of the week, both of which are revivals of a TV series in one way or another.

All this and less in Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Echo and the Bunnymen- People are Strange

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Someone learned to use photoshop!

The Hobbit series continues to pale in comparison to its Lord of the Rings predecessors while still being far from a complete waste of time.

The Desolation of Smaug is a step-up from the previous film in terms of keeping things moving and justifying its run time. The appearance of Smaug himself certainly doesn’t hurt, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice pouring through the theater speakers like melted black licorice.

Just a note before I get into the meat of this review; I’ve heard some folks complaining about the way Smaug isn’t real enough. As part of this particular story, that doesn’t really bother me personally. Though since Peter Jackson is trying so hard to turn this story into the kind of epic that the previous films encompassed rather than the quaint adventure tale that actually makes up the book, I can understand why some people may be unhealthily focused on how an imaginary creature doesn’t look real enough. (Despite the fact that there are no such things as dragons. Not the fire-breathing and/or talking kind, at the very least.) For me, Smaug works because I feel the personality of the creature emanating from him. This is the most difficult thing for computer effects people to capture. The kind of lightning in a bottle that Ray Harryhausen brought to almost all his creations, despite the fact that no one would ever accuse him of realism. In this case, I felt it.

When it comes to the main storyline, the parts of the book that take the longest (staying with Beorn, the shape-shifter, or the imprisonment by the elf king) are done and over in a flash, while things that are not even in the books are given plenty of screentime.

Take Tauriel, for example. A character created for the films and portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, she actually works better than some of the things taken directly from the slight tome that the film is based on, maybe because she better fits the kind of film Jackson is making.
But the kind of film Jackson is making is a fun one. The action scenes (which conversely are much longer than they are in the books) manage to be the kind of roller coaster ride he’s famous for. In the instance of the famous barrel ride down the river, almost literally so.

The other good thing about this chapter is that the dwarves are managing to differentiate themselves. Personalities assigned to them are beginning to shine through. I can’t really fault the first film for having a tough time with their characterization, because there’s very little of it in the book. Sure, there are a few bits here and there for a select few of them, but in most cases, the fact that there are so many seems to exist only for the comic relief of listing their names in Tolkien’s book.

It is perhaps not ironic but at least an overlooked effect of this improvement that leads to the Hobbit of the title seeming less like a lead character of his own film and more like part of an ensemble. Especially between the dwarves and the side-adventures of Gandalf that are pushing the prequel aspects of the story much farther than one would expect. He comes in direct contact with forces and visions that make you wonder why he wasn’t better prepared at the beginning of Fellowship of the Rings.

So all in all, it’s a slicker, more action-oriented ride than the first film with less overt direct references to the original trilogy. But it also has the worst, most anti-climactic ending of any of the Tolkien films since Fellowship. In the end, if you didn’t like An Unexpected Journey, Smaug most likely will not change your mind about the Hobbit trilogy. Even with the improvements, it’s still overlong and it still is trying to make the story into something that it’s not. There and Back Again promises to be more of the same. But at least now we know what to expect of these films. A good time at the movies. Just not the earth-shaking time we had expected two years ago.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Star Trek Into Darkness

The Dark Batch

Star Trek Into Darkness is a bit of a weird title. It comes across as a Wheel of Fortune ‘before and after’ puzzle. But, if we stretch the metaphor beyond breaking, that Wheel joke expresses the transitory nature of the story for the film.

You see, Kirk has been given permanent control of the Enterprise following his actions against the future Romulans in Abrams’ first Trek film. But he’s not the Kirk we know yet. He has not began his mission of exploration. Darkness has the unusual propensity to be the sequel to a sequel to the original franchise’s continuity that also functioned as an almost prequel. I sure can’t think of another franchise like it. It’s not like Mayday Parker showed up in the last Raimi Spider-Man and then went back in time to kickstart the Garfield flicks. That’s part of what made Trek XI so intriguing and what provides the frustration I felt for Trek XII.

Don’t get me wrong; I really had a great time with Darkness. Even if I did not like it as well as the previous film, it is still definitely in the upper tier of the franchise’s installments. The main issue is that they don’t seem to be taking the opportunity to be as original as they could be, perhaps because of the expectations that go along with the name. While the previous film absolutely had ways that it was reminiscent of other Trek entries, they found ways to make them different enough to feel fresh. Darkness, on the other hand, plays its homage so on the nose as to be distracting.

Trying to avoid spoilers for a film like this is priority, of course, and it can be tough to do when so much inference can be made due to rumor and innuendo, especially when it comes to an Abrams film. Abrams is so cryptic and secretive when it comes to even the most basic plot of his films that he could hold a birthday party and his invitations would read, “There is something going on somewhere on a  specific date and time. THERE WILL NOT BE CAKE.” This makes it very difficult to discuss specifics of many of his films without making people scream at you. This despite people literally going over every frame of the trailer trying to expose some nuance and glance something that would give away the story and any new characters that may appear. The thing is, Abrams also makes really, really good movies. Mission: Impossible III managed to resurrect a franchise that Tom Cruise had destroyed with his massive ego. Star Trek, which played in my particular theater right before Darkness as a double feature, is fantastic entertainment, especially on the big screen. Super 8 was my personal favorite movie of 2011. That’s how he gets away with it. And Star Trek Into Darkness is another notch in the “win” column, despite some glaring things that, while well done, made me roll my eyes a little bit. Like most of his films, it is a rollicking movie with lots of humor, great action sequences and an important character dynamic at its core.

In this case, the story is built around the budding relationship between Spock and Kirk. Since Kirk has had it made clear that he and Spock are intended to be the best bros since Paul Rudd and Jason Segel in I Love You, Man, he’s definitely making an effort to reach out to him. But since their friendship was jump-started as opposed to beginning organically, it has had many bumps and snags along the way. Kirk’s swagger and attempts to preserve life, even when it violates the prime directive (one of his more endearing characteristics held over from the TV series) and Spock’s rigidness collide, even when they are getting along. The way that the events of the previous film instruct their interplay is one of the biggest highlights of the film, as well as further integration of Karl Urban, whose McCoy remains absolutely spot-on without ever seeming like a caricature. Something he pulls off better than any other member of the cast, all of which thankfully return and will hopefully be coming back for many more incarnations.

New to the cast is Alice Eve, who was notable in Men in Black III, and she is possibly more fetching than in any of her other film roles. Her part is one of the ways in which the series is taking things in a new direction, one that could yield some positive results. The ever-dependable Peter Weller, as a senior member of Starfleet, adds some gravitas to the cast. Also coming aboard is Benedict Cumberbatch, fantastic as always, though his casting is admittedly questionable. His role is the one that has been speculated about the most and I wouldn’t dare bring up how he fits into the plot. What I will say is, if you’re a fan of his from his previous work such as Sherlock, you should come away happy with his work.

It’s not often that I love and am frustrated by a movie at the same time, but this is one of them. I’m trying to decide who it was made for; the parallels and abundant references are obviously only things that a Trek fan would get, but the story feels like it would perhaps play out better for a newbie that just came on board with the previous film.

(Three and a half out of five stars)